Rich Israel will lead nonprofit as it strives to address needs of the region’s growing senior population
San Diego Seniors Community Foundation has hired Rich Israel to be its new president and CEO. He replaces founder Bob Kelly, who will continue his work with the nonprofit as a board member.
Working for a nonprofit isn’t new for Israel, who spent more than a decade as the local chapter president of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society followed by nearly two years as president and CEO for Partnerships With Industry, which provided employment and training services for people with disabilities.
He has lived in Scripps Ranch since 1983, after graduating with a marketing degree from San Diego State University in 1979. He started his career working for the Chargers football franchise for two decades, before moving to Promark Sports and later the San Diego Sockers.
As Israel steps into the role, he and Kelly hope to foster the nonprofit’s continued growth and ability to support local senior care organizations through the donations it collects.
“We’d like to be the beneficiary of all kinds of funding so that we can support seniors who are, as Bob has often pointed out, really underfunded,” Israel said. “So few charity dollars are directed to seniors, and yet the needs are really immense.”
In a report on charitable giving and COVID-19 by Candid and the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, the organizations found that only 2 percent of funding during the first year of the pandemic went toward the older adult population. But globally, people age 65 and older made up 9 percent of the population just a year earlier in 2019, the United Nations reports.
And that sector of the population continues to grow as the Baby Boomer generation ages into older adulthood.
By 2035, the San Diego Association of Governments estimates that more than 19 percent of the region’s population — 738,054 people — will be age 65 and older, up from 12 percent of the population — 425,919 people — in 2020.
Meanwhile, senior care advocates have long called for a greater number of support programs to address the needs of this growing demographic and their caregivers. This is especially needed for those living with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia or other people diagnosed with other chronic health conditions.
Part of the reason why Israel wanted to join SDSCF as its leader was based on his own personal experience caring for his and his wife’s aging parents. They spend each Sunday with his in-laws to help with caregiving for his mother-in-law, who is living with very late-stage Alzheimer’s disease.
“Everybody would like to see her stay home as long as she can, but it’s hard,” he said “It’s really hard, and it’s expensive for a caregiver.”
Better support infrastructure is also important for senior orphans who don’t have children, spouses, or other local family members to help care for them, which Kelly said makes them more susceptible to elder abuse.
“These are people who live in an apartment or wherever and they have nobody,” Kelly said. “Society hasn’t figured out yet, and what we’re trying to accomplish is to raise the awareness, get people engaged, get more resources, and start building the infrastructure that’s necessary to take care of the seniors.”
Through its philanthropic work, the San Diego Seniors Community Foundation aims to increase charitable funding to support and improve organizations in the region that support seniors, helping to improve their health and quality of life.
Late last year, SDSCF granted $85,000 in funds to support winter holiday programming for seniors at 26 different organizations in San Diego County, including the Chicano Federation, ElderHelp, Serving Seniors, Neighborhood House Senior Center and Southern Caregivers Resource Center. In total, about 4,000 seniors benefitted from various programs such as holiday luncheons, gift baskets, meal deliveries and grocery pickups.
Israel and Kelly would also like to help local senior centers become nationally accredited through the National Council on Aging. There are currently no centers in the county that are accredited, and only one in all of California, according to the NCOA’s latest report last year.
Joining the National Institute of Senior Centers is free, but Kelly said it takes time to fill out the applications and would mean raising funds to hire more full-time staff, increasing the operational hours, increase the size of centers and make other quality improvements.
“For a real, super senior center, you really should have a gym, you should have pickleball courts, that’s what a sophisticated center has,” Kelly said.
In his free time, Israel likes to golf with his friends and spend time with family, which includes four kids, seven grandkids and some furry “grandpets.”